Issue Fatigue

Persons in Charge:   Christina Schumann

Project Period:         2014 up to now


Currently, many countries face political problems which remain on the political agenda for a long time. Corona-virus, migration flows, climate change or right-wing-populism are just some examples. News media cover these issues intensively. Studies on issue salience of news topics generally point to positive effects of such intensive news coverage. Citizens might judge such issues as more important than others or process the provided information more deeply.

However, as found out in a pilot study conducted by EMPK research group, a long lasting and intensive news coverage may also have negative effects: Citizens feel annoyed when confronted with such issues in the news and argue that they no longer wish to hear or see any related information about the respective topic anymore. We call this phenomenon issue fatigue.

What is issue fatigue – definition, causes, consequences and developments

Scientific knowledge about issue fatigue is scarce. As such, it is the aim of EMPK-research group to shed light on the phenomenon. Particularly, we work on a theoretical deduced definition and scrutinize causes, consequences and developments of issue fatigue empirically.

In a nutshell, existing results show that issue fatigue…

  • is composed of emotional and cognitive components, particularly annoyance, information overload and a reduced motivation to process further information.

  • is a widespread phenomenon and occurs toward various issues, such as Corona-virus, the refugee crisis or the war in Syria.

  • is caused by a negative perception of the news coverage as being too exhaustive, not trustworthy, unreliable and overshadowing other important issues (issue victimization),

  • makes people avoid further news and interpersonal discussions about the respective issue,

  • makes people delete sources that share issue related content out of their social media news diet

  • leads to citizens’ dissatisfaction with the performance of politicians and political processes in charge of solving the issues (=policy malaise).

International Perspectives on Issue Fatigue

In this project, we scrutinize occurrence and implications of issue fatigue in an international context. Motivated by a) the critique that perspectives from the global south are missing in communication sciences (#CommunicationSoWhite) and b) the question if and how issue fatigue occurs in other countries as well, we investigate differences and commonalities of issue fatigue in various countries, such as Mexico and Pakistan, among other.

In the most recent cooperation from 2020, we cooperate with researchers from Universitas Padjadjar and Universitas Pancasila (both Indonesia) as well as National University of Science and Technology, (Pakistan). Using the issue of Corona-virus, we investigate causes and consequences of issue fatigue in the three countries.

Communication as reference to the world


Persons in Charge:   Christoph Kuhlmann

Project Period:         2000 up to now


The theory of Communication as reference to the world (Weltbezugsansatz) was developed by Christoph Kuhlmann. The theory provides an integrative perspective for the analysis of media content on the one hand, and reception and impact phenomena on the other hand. In essence, the main question is what connections can be found between the world reference structure in the media (references to emotions, cognitions, actions, communications, etc.) and the analogous references of the recipients. The theory can be applied to all issues. However, the focus of the research has been on communication on environmental and sustainability issues. Both the classical mass media and social networks are of interest here. The research area also includes the development of new methodological instruments for content analysis and survey research.

Concrete projects take place within the framework of research seminars and theses.